A version of this story about “Sun Children” first appeared in the International Film Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
The films of director Magid Magidi have represented Iran at the Oscars more than the work of any other director — six times in total, beginning with the 1998 nominee “Children of Heaven.” Like that movie, his latest film, “Sun Children,” focuses on young people — in this case, a group of street kids and child laborers who do jobs around the city and are kept under the control of men who only pretend to be benevolent.
At 2020’s Venice Film Festival, teen actor Rouhollah Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for an emerging performer for his performance as a desperate kid who sees a way out when his boss tells him to locate treasure that’s been hidden beneath a local cemetery. But the only way to reach the tunnels that lead to that treasure is by infiltrating a special school for at-risk children — a ploy that slowly starts to change his outlook.
Why did you want to tell this story?
All of my movies have been about children, and the problem of working children is one that interests me now. I’ve had it in my heart, and I’ve been waiting for an occasion to work on a film about the abuses that they are living. In Iran now, we are surrounded by countries that are very vulnerable, and we have so many immigrants, especially from Afghanistan but also from Pakistan and Iraq — and they are in dire straits financially, psychologically, emotionally. And of course, we have Iranian kids, too.
How did you find the kids you cast in your movie, and how did you get such terrific performances from them?
One of the main challenges was to find the kids, as you can imagine, because I wanted to have working children. Finding them in these communities was really a hard task. It took months to find them, and I interviewed so many of them. But I’m very happy with the result — I have to admit that these kids were impressive beyond my imagination. Once you choose the right kids, 50% of your work is done. The rest comes from experience. I’ve been working with children for 25 or 26 years, so I know how to direct them and how to handle them.
Can a movie like this change people’s perceptions of a problem like child labor?
Definitely. I’m a firm believer of the influence that art can have on a society. Even now, we are dealing with corona and we can’t have public screenings, but even considering all these problems, I think the film has had the influence I wanted. Already in my own country, people are coming forward to contribute to construction of special schools for these kids. If we don’t make the kids’ lives easier, if they don’t get educated, we are destroying our own future.